Eating is one of the great joys in life. We need to eat to survive — even during a pandemic. With the spring bounty making its way to market in May, now is a good time to try new options for eating local.
The idea of buying fresh foods from growers and grocers close to home rather than from another coast or country is not new; it went mainstream in the 1970s, after the first Earth Day. Today, shuttered restaurants, social distancing and queues of masked shoppers remind us that not only is eating local healthy and good for the environment, it’s also a lifeline for farmers, cooks and food-service workers.
Eating local doesn’t necessarily equate to organic and sustainable agriculture, though many producers adhere to these. But there are plenty of environmental benefits including protecting local lands and wildlife, reducing fuel consumption and air pollution, reducing waste, and general healthy eating that helps with the waistline. To learn more about the impact of your food choices, visit the Earth Day Network, where you can calculate your food footprints.
Here we offer six simple tips to help you eat local.
Tip 1: Farmers markets have many safety measures to protect shoppers.
Many of the year-round farmers markets operated by the Food Trust, Farm to City and others remain open in Philadelphia and the five-county region. That could change, so check their websites or Facebook before you go. Resourceful vendors have adopted safety measures including pre-bagging produce so it’s not handled by other customers, eliminating product sampling, online ordering in advance, and special early shopping hours set aside for seniors and the immunocompromised.
“The producers are very confident they can do this in a safe and conscientious way,” Jon Glyn, farmers market program manager for Farm to City told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Unfortunately, the leisurely stroll and chit-chat with neighbors in the open air market will have to wait for another season.
Tip 2: Be your own chef and keep it simple.
Can’t get more local than cooking in your own kitchen. If you’re not already in the habit of preparing meals from scratch, now’s a good time to start. You don’t have to be a Top Chef to cook something that tastes good!
Pick healthy ingredients that you can grow yourself or buy locally, are inexpensive, easy to prepare, and that taste good to you and your family. Go online for ideas like these simple recipes from Bon Appetite. If you’re making soup, make a large potful and freeze some; chicken, roast two and share the second one with an elderly relative or neighbor.
Exhibition Designer Lauren Duguid shares this simple recipe for her favorite omelet. For the salad in the photo, visit Small Actions Spark Big Changes.
Ingredients: pioppino mushrooms, tatsoi, garlic, lemon, Locatelli Pecorino Romano
Prep: Slice the mushrooms long-ways in lengths of 1-2 inches. Sauté them with garlic, olive oil, lemon, and a delicate green like tatsoi, baby kale or pea shoots. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and crack the eggs into the frying pan to start the omelet over medium-low heat. When the omelet starts to firm up at the base, place the sauté mixture on one half and sprinkle with the cheese. When ready, fold it over, sprinkle more cheese and dig in.
Tip 3: Take a walk on the wild side.
Feeling adventurous? Get a jump on catching your own fish and growing your own food! Trout season in Pennsylvania and New Jersey opened early this year and so did Mother Nature when she sprung spring on us 16 days earlier than normal.
Even if you have a tiny urban backyard, you can buy already-started herbs and veggies from a local plant store or Home Depot and successfully raise ingredients for your home-cooked meals. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society offers gardening workshops and a list of community gardens you may want to join.
Fishing is another therapeutic option that puts free (not counting the fishing license) food on the table. To find a stream or lake near you, visit the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website. Make sure to keep 6 feet away from fellow anglers, cover your face with a bandana or mask, and don’t share fishing gear.
Tip 4: Did you know there are thousands of eateries in the region doing takeout and delivery?
Even though you can’t break bread together inside them, the number of restaurants, breweries and bakeries open for takeout and delivery keeps growing. And that’s good news for the ailing economy and food service workers.
Visit Philly offers a one-stop shop of delivery services, pickup tips for local eateries, and special menus and deals like #SavePhillyEats that offers custom deals with 100% of proceeds going directly to the restaurants. Even Reading Terminal Market is offering pickup and delivery through Mercato.
Tip 5: Some restaurants sell groceries and some food distributors deliver to your door.
While the situation can change from day to day, some restaurants large and small — and even a brewery — are selling staples such as milk, butter, cheese and meats. United By Blue is also selling toilet paper, tissues and paper towels in addition to their cafe menu at their flagship store in Philadelphia.
It’s more of a community service than a profit center, the restauranteurs say, and you need to order in advance. See what the eateries closest to you are offering.
A handful of food distributors, whose job is to truck thousands of dollars of fresh meats and vegetables at a time, have begun to settle for orders as low as $70 and will pull up to your home or apartment.
Community Shared Agriculture, delivery of preordered boxes of mixed seasonal vegetables and sometimes meats and dairy, is another way to purchase locally grown, seasonal food from smaller farmers. Green Cities offers tips on best practices, and the Common Market Farm Share is another option.
Tip 6: Your neighborhood grocer may have what you need.
Instead of ordering your groceries online through Amazon or filling up your shopping cart at a big box store, try a grocer in walking or biking distance. Shopping close to home cuts down on carbon emissions and you can look for one that’s eco-friendly.
Though you may find some empty shelves occasionally, many of these smaller stores are independently- or family-owned and have a dependable supply chain. If they don’t have flour one day, they probably have it on order and you can ask when it will be in.
Keep tote bags and a knapsack at your front door (along with your mask and gloves) so you don’t have to use plastic bags.
We’d love to hear your tips for eating local. Post them in the comments section below. Bon appetit!
By Carolyn Belardo, Academy Director, Public Relations
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